Kristaps Porzingis doesn’t know what to expect, but he also kind of does.
There’s a portion of him that thinks it’s possible that his return to Madison Square Garden as a visitor Thursday won’t be as vitriolic and as negative as it could be. And then there’s the portion of him that reads social media.
“Social media says it’s mostly negative, but we’ll see, we’ll see, we’ll see,” he said after Mavericks practice Wednesday at the NBPA’s facility in midtown Manhattan. “It’s going to be a lot of emotion, that’s for sure . . . [I’m going to feel] a lot of excitement. A lot of memories. A lot of good memories, mostly. It’s going to be weird at the same time. It’s the first time in the visitor’s locker room and it’s going to be different. But I’m looking forward to it.”
But though Porzingis might miss the Garden, there’s much to indicate it misses him back. His relationship with the Knicks soured throughout his tenure here, and eventually, president Steve Mills said he was the one that requested the blockbuster trade to the Mavericks while Porzingis was recuperating from a torn ACL last year. The trade, which also shipped off Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee and Trey Burke, was supposed to free up cap space for two max free agent contracts, with both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving becoming available in the offseason. Durant and Irving took their talents to Brooklyn. Fans were . . . not pleased.
Porzingis called his time in New York “a learning experience,” and it’s clear that he wished it had gone differently.
“When you’re a Knick, and we weren’t doing that well, but when you’re decent, everybody receives a lot of love,” he said. “This is a basketball city and it just sucks that we never really got to do something big here.”
It doesn’t help that his time with the team were marked by volatility, including four different coaches, and the ouster of team president Phil Jackson. Now, the Knicks are embroiled in even more drama, with a report surfacing from ESPN earlier this week saying that David Fizdale may be on the way out. Meanwhile, the Mavericks have Rick Carlisle, who’s been in place since 2008.
“It’s a city hungry for success in basketball,” Porzingis said. “For them, for the fans, for the city to be going through this year after year, it’s got to be tough.”
Meanwhile, Hardaway said the constant changes were a challenge throughout. “It was tough,” he said, “I never had the same coach for more than a year, so it was a struggle.”
And unlike Porzingis, Hardaway seemed fairly certain of what awaits him on Thursday.
“I know it’s going to be a hostile environment, a lot of mixed emotions,” he said. “But this is the business that we’re in and that’s what we feed off of.”
Carlisle isn’t overly concerned about how the crowd reaction with affect Porzingis, who’s coming off a 1-for-11 shooting day against the Celtics. He already spoke to Porzingis the first time they faced the Knicks in Dallas earlier this year; the Knicks won, but Porzingis played well, scoring 28.
“Lose yourself in the team. Don’t get distracted by who we’re playing,” Carlisle said of his words to Porzingis then. “My advice this time around is really the same. We’ve got to make this about our team being in New York and competing and trying to win a game, not about these other kinds of distractions.”